Standage, Tom. The Turk: the Life and Times of the Famous Eighteenth-Century Chess Playing Machine. New York: Walker & Company, 2002
Reason read: Wolfgang von Kempelen was born in January. Read in his memory.
Picture a bygone era ripe with new inventions. This was the industrial revolution. Everyone is coming up with something practical to make life easier or something clever to wow the public’s imagination. Wolfgang von Kempelen’s creativity was sparked when he attended a conjuring show at the court of Austria-Hungary’s empress, Maria Theresa. Kempelen felt he could impress the empress further with his own ingenuity. She gave him six months to prepare a show of his own and at the end of the six months a mechanical Turkish dressed chess player was born. Outfitted with a high turban and a long smoking pipe, the automaton appeared to be capable of thought as he singlehandedly beat even the most skilled chess player at his own game. Kempelen allowed his audience to peer into the machine’s inner workings and yet they still couldn’t figure it out. the automaton became even more lifelike and mysterious when his second owner, Johann Maezel, introduced speech. The Turk, as the mechanical chess player became known, could talk! Instead of nodding three times, the automaton could tell his opponents, “check” in French further adding to his mystique. Like the boy who came to life in Pinocchio, the Turk was pure magic.
For eighty-seven years the Turk wowed audiences all across Europe and the eastern United States (Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston primarily) before a raging fire extinguished his career. The mystery was not the how the automaton worked. Not really. The bigger and better mystery was how, for all those years and kept by multiple owners, the secret did not get out.
It is sad to think the Turk is not squirreled away in some fantastic museum. I fantasize about turning a corner, coming into a dusty room and standing face to face with the mechanical man in a turban who could say, “echec.”
Author fact: Standage also wrote a book called The Victorian Internet and even though it sounds fantastic, it is not on my list.
Book trivia: There are some interesting and revealing illustrations.
Nancy said: Pearl said Turk is “a most entertaining account of a marvelous invention” (Book Lust p 150).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Mechanical Men, Robots, Automatons, and Deep Blue” (p 150).
Petroski, Henry. The Evolution of Useful Things: How Everyday Artifacts – From Forks and Pins To Paper Clips and Zippers – Came To Be As They Are. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993.
Reason read: April is Math, Science and Technology Month.
Did you ever stop to think that the four-tined fork which brings food to your mouth and the two-tined fork you use to hold meat while carving it came from the same food necessity and that they are siblings separated at birth? Probably not, but Petroski did. He goes on to explore to evolution of all sorts of everyday items, like cans and can openers, zippers, and to name a few. His book is filled with interesting facts and even a little humor. The photographs are great, too!
Confessional: to those of you who follow along it should come as no surprise that I get a certain thrill from making a Natalie connection in seemingly unrelated books. Here’s the Natalie connection with The Evolution of Useful Things: Natalie released a 4-song CD called “Songs To Color By” in 2002. Song #3 was called “Paper of Pins” and even though I had know idea what the title meant I was content to be ignorant and just sing along. Sixteen years alter, enter Henry Petroski and his paper of pins. Thanks to a photograph I now know what a paper of pins looks like, too.
Author fact: It should come as no surprise, Henry Petroski was a Civil Engineering professor at Duke University. Obviously, the man knows what he’s talking about.
Book trivia: the illustrations and photographs in The Evolution of Useful Things is pretty cool.
Nancy said: Pearl said Henry Petroski was a professor of civil engineering and that The Evolution of Useful Things is “a good book” (p 232).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Techno-Thrillers” (p 231).
One of my all time favorite 10,000 Maniacs songs is “The Painted Desert” off the album, Our Time in Eden. If you have never heard it, the premise is simple. A couple is trying to have a long distance relationship. Or…one of them is anyway…While one is off in the Southwest, the other waits patiently for the time when he? she? can join the other. But, soon the patience tarnishes and the one left behind find themselves pleading, “I wanted to be there by May at the latest time. Isn’t that the plan we had or have you changed your mind? I haven’t heard a word from you since Phoenix or Tuscon. April is over. Can you tell how long before I can be there?” The underlying poison is that the partner has moved on and the answer to the question is “never.” How ironic.
Having said all that, April IS over. As far as the run is concerned, I begrudgingly ran a half mara and a 10k and despite not training for either, I am pleased with both races.
And I read a fair amount of books:
- Amber Beach by Elizabeth Lowell
- Zeitoun by Dave Eggers
- The Corner: a Year in the life of an Inner-City Neighborhood by David Simon and Edward Burns
- The Evolution of Everyday Objects by Henry Petroski
- Bogey Man by George Plimpton
- To the Is-Land: an Autobiography by Janet Frame
- Charmed by Nora Roberts
- The Venus Throw by Steven Saylor
- “Unexplorer” by Edna St. Vincent Millay
- “Travel” by Edna St. Vincent Millay
- “Wild Geese” by Edna St. Vincent Millay
- New and Collected Poetry by Czeslaw Milosz
- Deeply Grateful and Entirely Unsatisfied by Amanda Happe
This year, more than ever, I am struck by time’s marching; the relentless footfalls of days and weeks passing by. I know that is mortality speaking, but it rings eerie in my mind nonetheless. Not helping the doom and gloom is the first book on my list, On The Beach by Nevil Shute. I wanted a different book from Shute but there isn’t a library local enough to loan it to me.
Here are the planned books for January 2018:
- On The Beach (AB) by Nevil Shute (previously mentioned) – in honor of Shute’s birth month.
- Clara Callan by Richard Wright – in honor of Sisters Week being in January.
- Tea From an Empty Cup by Pat Cadigan – in honor of January being Science Fiction Month.
- Partisans: Marriage, Politics and Betrayal Among the New York Intellectuals by David Laskin – in honor of January 26th being Spouses’s Day.
- War Child: a Child Soldier’s Story by Emmanuel Jal – in honor of the end of the Sudan civil war.
- Travellers’ Prelude: Autobiography 1893-1927 by Freya Stark – in honor of Freya Stark’s birth month.
- Practicing History by Barbara Tuchman (AB) – in honor of Tuchman’s birth month.
- Mrs. Pollifax and the Golden Triangle by Dorothy Gilman – started in September in honor of Grandparents’ Day.
For the Early Review program for LibraryThing:
- Brain Food: The Surprising Science of Eating for Cognitive Power by Lisa Mosconi, PhD (finishing).
- Pep Talk for Writers: 52 Insights and Actions to Boost Your Creative Mojo by Grant Faulkner (also finishing).
Quammen, David. Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinctions. New York: Scribner, 1996.
Reason read: February is David Quammen’s birth month. Reading Song of the Dodo in his honor.
I had never fully understood the word “biogeography” until reading Quammen’s Song of the Dodo. According to Quammen on page 17 of Dodo, “Biogeography is the study of the facts and the patterns of species distribution.” More importantly, the distribution of specific species on islands does much to argue the point of origin and “survival of the fittest” and adversely, extinction.
Song of the Dodo is a scientific adventure. It will prompt you to ask questions. Here’s an example: I was particularly struck by the obvious/not-so-obvious Noah’s Ark conundrum: exactly how big was this vessel if every single species was welcomed aboard two by two? As Quammen pointed out, “Noah’s ark was getting too full” (p 34).
What about this question – who was responsible for the theory of natural selection? Quammen delves into the controversy surrounding the competition between Alfred Wallace and Charles Darwin. Again, to quote Quammen “Was Darwin guilty of scummy behavior, or wasn’t he?” (p 109).
All in all, the subject matter for Song of the Dodo could be considered dry but the writing is most definitely entertaining. Where else can you find such a scientific topic interspersed with words like crazybig, godawful, helluva, whonks, and my personal favorite, badass?
Quote I liked, “But the hapless iguana wasn’t dealing with some idle yahoo, some sadistic schoolboy with a short attention span; it was dealing with Charles Darwin” (p 232).
Author fact: Quammen has written for Rolling Stone but his two of his books, Monsters of God and The Soul of Viktor Tronko are on my list.
Book trivia: maps are by Kris Ellingsen. Also, I have to admit Quammen invoked the Saint Helena earwig so many times I had to look it up. Can’t say I’m glad I did.
Nancy said: “well written and always fascinating” (p 70).
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the long chapter called “Dewey Deconstructed: 500s” (p 70).
Novacek, Michael. Time Traveler: In Search of Dinosaurs and Ancient Mammals From Montana to Mongolia. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002.
Reason read: October is Dinosaur Month. I don’t know who came up with that except to say that I read it on the internet.
Michael Novacek begins his book Time Traveler like a memoir, taking us back to a time when high school yearbooks crowned well endowed coeds with titles such as “Miss Sweater Girl” (and it wasn’t considered sexist). Novacek makes it autobiographically personal by including interesting artifacts (pun totally intended) about his own adolescence, like how he was in a rock band that could have gone somewhere, or that he kissed a girl named Diane in the back of a bus. He even includes some humor. Consider this quote, “…our last moment on earth will probably be marked by an image of a dark cab coming at us dead-on, with a flash of gold teeth and a tequila bottle on the dashboard” (p 166). It makes for a very entertaining read. But, that’s not to say he dumbs down paleontology and all things natural history. Just the opposite, in fact, his laid back writing style made the otherwise dry topic (for me anyways) far more interesting. Just wait until you get to the part about whales found in Patagonia and Michael’s harrowing adventures in Chile.
Quote I liked, “Nothing is worse than obligatory fun” (p 241).
Author fact: PBS made a documentary about Novacek’s work. That’s pretty cool. Something to put on the to do list…
Book trivia: I read a review that mentioned grainy photography but I don’t know what they were talking about. I didn’t see photographs. I thought they were all very cool illustrations.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter simply called “Patagonia” (p 93).
This should be my favorite month because I’ve been so deeply tied to Just ‘Cause (think pink) and I love, love, love Halloween. But, all I can think about is the run. Here are the books, by the way!
Dragon Reborn by Robert Jordan In a Strange City by Laura Lippman By a Spider’s Thread by Laura Lippman Recognitions by William Gaddis Maus by Art Spiegelman Lady Franklin’s Revenge by Ken McGoogan Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao* by Junot Diaz Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin Shadow Rising by Robert Jordan A Good Doctor’s Son by Steven Schwartz Drinking: a Love Story by Caroline Knapp Ancient Rome on 5 Denarii a Day by Philip Matyszak Nero Wolfe Cookbook by Rex Stout Treasure Hunter by W. Jameson Maus II by Art Spiegelman (Jan) The Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat In Xanadu by William Dalrymple The Assault by Harry Mulisch Wild Blue by Stephen Ambrose Shot in the Heart by Mikal Gilmore Greater Nowheres by David Finkelstein/Jack London Alma Mater by P.F Kluge Old Man & Me by Elaine Dundy Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy Good Life by Ben Bradlee Underworld by Don DeLillo Her Name Was Lola by Russell Hoban Man Who Was Thursday by GK Chesterton Fires From Heaven by Robert Jordan Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce Herb ‘n’ Lorna by Eric Kraft Polish Officer by Alan Furst– Lord of Chaos by Robert Jordan Walden by Henry David Throreau Reservations Recommended by Eric Kraft Selected Letters of Norman Mailer edited by J. Michael Lennon Chasing Monarchs by Robert Pyle Saturday Morning Murder by Batya Gur Bebe’s By Golly Wow by Yolanda Joe Lives of the Muses by Francine Prose Broom of the System by David Wallace Crown of Swords by Robert Jordan Little Follies by Eric Kraft Literary Murder by Batya Gur Bob Marley, My Son by Cedella Marley Booker Night Flight by Antoine de Saint-Exupery Southern Mail by Antoine de Saint- Exupery Measure of All Things, the by Ken Alder Two Gardeners by Emily Wilson Royal Flash by George Fraser Binding Spell by Elizabeth Arthur Crown of Swords by Robert Jordan ADDED: Castle in the Backyard by Betsy Draine Path of Daggers by Robert Jordan Where Do You Stop? by Eric Kraft Everything You Ever Wanted by Jillian Lauren Murder on a Kibbutz by Batya Gur Flash for Freedom! by George Fraser Murder in Amsterdam by Ian Buruma Petra: lost city by Christian Auge From Beirut to Jerusalem by Thomas Friedman Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese Flashman at the Charge by George MacDonald Fraser What a Piece of Work I Am by Eric Kraft Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson Ruby by Cynthia Bond
Winter’s Heart by Robert Jordan Crossroads of Twilight by Robert Jordan Murder Duet by Batya Gur Flashman in the Great Game – George MacDonald Fraser At Home with the Glynns by Eric Kraft Sixty Stories by Donald Barthelme New Physics and Cosmology by Arthur Zajonc Grifters by Jim Thompson Snow Angels by James Thompson
So Many Roads: the life and Times of the Grateful Dead by David Browne
Short story: Drinking with the Cook by Laura Furman Short Story: Hagalund by Laura Furman Lone Pilgrim by Laurie Colwin Not so Short story: The Last of Mr. Norris by Christopher Isherwood short story: Jack Landers is My Friend by Daniel Stolar short story: Marriage Lessons by Daniel Stolar Light in August by William Faulkner Not so Short story: Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood A Comedy & A Tragedy by Travis Hugh Culley
Feed Zone by Biju Thomas Leaving Small’s Hotel by Eric Kraft Flashman’s Lady by George MacDonald Fraser In the Footsteps of Genghis Khan by John DeFrancis Faster! by James Gleick
Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett ADDED: Families and Survivors by Alice Adams Inflating a Dog by Eric Kraft
Castles in the Air by Judy Corbett
Flashman and the Redskins by George MacDonald Fraser
Queens’ Play by Dorothy Dunnett
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving Petty by Warren Zanes
Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie
Homicide by David Simon
- Then She Found Me by Elinor Lipman (AB)
- Disorderly Knights by Dorothy Dunnett
- Flashman and the Dragon by George MacDonald Fraser
- ADDED: A Cup of Water Under My Bed by Daisy Hernandez (ER)
- ADDED: Crows Over a Wheatfield by Paula Sharp
- ADDED: Time Traveler: In Search of Dinosaurs and Ancient Mammals from Montana to Mongolia by Michael Novacek
- Dark Hills Divide by Patrick Carman (Nov)
- Flashman and the Mountain of Light by George MacDonald Fraser (Nov)
- Pawn in Frankincense by Dorothy Dunnett (Nov)
- Andorra by Peter Cameron (Nov)
DNF = Did Not Finish; AB = Audio Book; ER = Early Review; DNS = Did Not Start; EB = E-Book